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1862 February 26: The Battle of Fort Donelson

February 26, 2012

Ten days after the end of the fighting, The Hudson North Star of February 26, 1862, printed General Ulysses S. Grant‘s official report on the Battle of Fort Donelson.

The National Park Service website for Fort Donelson nicely sums up the results of the battle:

Bells rang jubilantly throughout the North as the news spread … that Fort Donelson, a Confederate holding along the Cumberland River near Dover, Tennessee, had fallen into Union hands. It was February, 1862, and the North had witnessed its first major victory since the Civil War had begun nearly a year before.


T h e   F a l l   o f   F o r t   D o n e l s o n.


FORT DONELSON, Feb. 16, 1862. }

General G. W. Cullom [sic]1, Chief of Staff, Department Missouri :

GENERAL :—I am pleased to announce to you the unconditional surrender this morning of Fort Donelson, with twelve to fifteen thousand prisoners, at least forty pieces of artillery, and a large amount of stores, horses, mules, and other public property.

I left Fort Henry on the 12th inst., with a force of about 15 000 men, divided into two divisions under the command of Generals McClernand [John A. McClernand] and Smith [Charles F. Smith].  Six regiments were sent around by water the day before, conveyed by a gunboat or rather started one day later than one of the gunboats, and with instructions not to pass it.

Sketch Showing the Relative Positions of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, from the "Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies" (see footnote 2)

The troops made the march in good order, the head of the column arriving in two miles of the Fort at 12 o’clock  M.  At this point the enemy’s pickets were met and driven in.

The fortifications of the enemy were from this point gradually approached and surrounded ;  with occasional skirmishing on the line.  The following day, owing to the non-arrival of the gunboat and reinforcements sent by water, no attack was made ;  but the investment was extended on the flanks of the enemy, and drawn closer to his works, with skirmishing all day.  The evening of the 13th the gunboats and re-enforcements arrived.  On the 14th a gallant attack was made by Flag Officer Foote [Andrew H. Foote] upon the enemy’s works with his fleet.  The engagement lasted probably one hour and a half, and bid fair to result favorably to the cause of the Union, when two unlucky shots disabled two of the armored gunboats, so that they were carried back by the current.  The remaining two were very much disabled also, having received a number of heavy shots about the pilot house, and other parks of the vessels.  After these mishaps I concluded to make the investment of Fort Donelson as perfect as possible, and partially fortify and await repairs to the gunboats.  This plan was frustrated, however, by the enemy making a most vigorous attack upon our right wing, commanded by General J. A. McClernand, with a portion of the force under General L. Wallace.3  The enemy were repelled after a closely contested battle of several hours, in which our loss was heavy.  The officers, and particularly field officers, suffered out of proportion.  I have not the means yet of determining our loss even approximately, but it cannot fall far short of 1,200 killed, wounded and missing.4  Of the latter I understand through General Buckner [Simon B. Buckner] about 250 were taken prisoners.  I shall retain enough of the enemy to exchange for them, as they were immediately shipped off and not left for recapture.

Battle of Fort Donelson—Capture of General S.B. Buckner and His Army, February 16th 1862, by Kurz & Allison (see footnote 5)

About the close of this action the ammunition in the catridge[sic]-boxes gave out, which with the loss of many field officers, produced great confusion in the ranks.—Seeing that the enemy did not take advantage of this fact, I ordered a charge upon the left—enemy’s right—with the division under General C. F. Smith, which was most brilliantly executed, and gave to our arms the full assurance of victory.  The battle lasted until dark, giving us possession of part of their entrenchments.  An attack was ordered upon their other flank, after the charge by General Smith was commenced, by the divisions under General McClernand and Wallace; which, notwithstanding the hours of exposures to a heavy fire in the fore part of the day, was gallantly made and the enemy still further repulsed.  At the points thus gained, night having come on, all the troops encamped for the night, feeling that a complete victory would crown their labors at an early hour in the morning.  This morning, at an early hour, General S. B. Buckner sent a message to our camp under a flag of truce, propsing [sic] an armistice, &c.  A copy of the correspondence which ensued is herewith accompanied.

I cannot mention individuals who specially distinguished themselves, but leave that to division and brigade officers, whose reports will be forwarded as soon as received.  To division commanders, however, Generals McClernand, Smith and Wallace, I must do the justice to say that each of them were with their commands in the midst of danger, and were always ready to execute orders, no matter what the exposure to themselves.

At the hour the attack was made on General McClernand’s command I was absent, having received a note from Flag Officer Foote, requesting me to go and see him, he being unable to call.

My personal Staff—Col. J. D. Webster, Chief of Staff; Col. J. Riggin, Jr., volunteer Aid; Capt. J. A. Rawlins, A. A. General; Capts. C. B. Lagow and W. S. Hillyr, Aids, and Lieut. Col. V. B. McPherson, Chief Engineer—all are deserving of personal mention for their gallantry and service.6

For full details and reports and particulars, reference is made to the reports of the Engineer, Medical Director, and commander of Brigades and Divisions to follow.

I am, General, very respectfully,
                   Your obedient servant
                           U. S. GRANT, Brig. Gen.

1.  George Washington Cullum (1809-1892) was a graduate of West Point and a career military officer. When the Civil War started, he was an aide-de-camp to General Winfield Scott. At this time, he was the chief engineer of the Department of the Missouri (as of November 1861).
2.  Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891-1895 (in the Special Collections of the UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center: E 464 .U6).
3.  Lewis “Lew” Wallace (1827-1905) was a lawyer, politician, and author. A graduate of West Point, Wallace served in the Mexican War. At the beginning of the Civil War, Wallace was appointed state adjutant general in Indiana, and the was appointed the colonel of the 11th Indiana Infantry. After brief service in western Virginia, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and given the command of a brigade. Originally left behind to guard the recently taken Fort Henry, Wallace was called to Fort Donelson to organize a division of reinforcements. He made a key decision to help McClernand’s forces, which stabilized the Union line. Wallace then led a counter attack and retook lost ground. He is promoted to major general as of March 21, 1862.  After the Civil War Wallace will serve as the 11th Governor of New Mexico Territory (1878-1881), U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire (1881-1885), and will author the historical novel  Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (published 1880), a bestselling book since its publication and perhaps better known today for its 1959 film adaptation with Charlton Heston.
4.  The official totals will be 507 Union soldiers killed, 1,976 wounded, 208 captured/missing.
5.  This digital image is from an original 1887 Kurz & Allison print, available at the Library of Congress. The UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center has in its special collections a copy of Battles of the Civil War: The Complete Kurz & Allison Prints, 1861-1865, Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1976 (Oversized E 468.7 .B3 1976).
6.  Joseph Dana Webster (1811-1876) became Grant’s chief of staff in September 1861; was appointed colonel of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery, but remained with Grant through the battles of Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh.  He was commissioned Brigadier General in November 1862 and was again General Grant’s chief of staff in the Vicksburg Campaign. From 1864, until the end of the war, he served as chief of staff for General William T. Sherman and for General George H. Thomas at the battle of Nashville.
     John A. Riggin, Jr., served as an additional Aide-de-Camp on General Grant’s staff, rising to the rank of colonel. He was brevetted brigadier general, U.S. Volunteers, on March 13, 1865, for “gallant and meritorious services during the war.”  
     John Aaron Rawlins (1831-1869) served as a volunteer aide-de-camp, but at Grant’s request, Rawlins joined the United States Army as a captain and assistant adjutant general under Grant’s command. After the war, he served as the 29th U.S. Secretary of War (March-September 1869).
     Clark Brading Lagow (1828-1867) was a 1st lieutenant in the 21st Illinois Infantry when he was assigned to the staff of Major General Ulysses S. Grant, with whom he served as an additional Aide-de-Camp, rising to the rank of colonel. He was brevetted brigadier general, U.S. Volunteers, on March 13, 1865, for “gallant and meritorious services during the war.”
      William Silliman Hillyr (1830-1874), was commissioned as a captain and he served as an aide-de-camp to General Grant through the campaigns of Island No. 10, Fort Donelson, and the Battle of Shiloh. He was promoted to a colonel of Volunteers, and on March 13, 1865, was brevetted brevet brigadier general, U.S. Volunteers, for “gallant and meritorious services during the war,” a reward for faithful work on General Grant’s staff. When Grant was elected as President, he appointed General Hillyer as United States Internal Revenue agent.

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